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January 28, 2010

Beal, Commodores conquer Rocky Top

Vanderbilt got one of the best performances of Jermaine Beal's while surviving a sensational game by Tennessee's J.P. Prince, as the Commodores erased a six-point second-half deficit to upset the Volunteers 86-76 at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville on Wednesday evening.

A crowd of 19,103, plus an ESPNU audience, watched Beal drop 25 points on the Vols on 8-of-12 shooting, including 13 points when the Commodores started a 26-7 run midway through the second half that put UT realistically out of striking distance.

A.J. Ogilvy added 12 points, and Brad Tinsley, Jeff Taylor and John Jenkins added 10 each as the Commodores (16-3, 5-0 Southeastern Conference), shot 50.9 percent form the field for the game and scored 54 second-half points.

Vandy was able to win even though starters Taylor, Ogilvy and Andre Walker (nine points, seven rebounds, five assists, a pair of blocks and one steal) each picked up four fouls, and UT's Prince had 22 points on 9-of-10 shooting from the field.

"Our guys played with a lot of purpose, a lot of intent, and we have some guys that didn't play anywhere near our best. But Jermaine was phenomenal, and when your senior plays like a senior, it sure helps things," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said.

Vanderbilt trailed by four at half, and found itself down 53-48 after Prince hit a pair of free throws with 11:45 left.

But Beal answered with a 3 that would start the 26-7 run. Ogilvy picked up an offensive rebound of a Beal miss on the next possession, was fouled, and hit a free throw. Tinsley then stole the ball and assisted Jenkins on a fast-break layup.

After Chism missed the front end of a one-and-one, Ogilvy tipped in his own miss on VU's next possession, giving the 'Dores a 56-55 lead with 9:27 left.

Vanderbilt never trailed again. Steven Pearl hit a free throw to tie on UT's next offensive trip, but Tinsley answered with a 3 just seconds later. Two Beal free throws on Vandy's next possession, then a Jenkins 3 on its next trip, put VU up by six with 7:22 left.

Beal stuck the final daggers into the Volunteers' heart when he hit a jumper at 5:44, followed by 3s at 5:22 and 5:00, to put Vandy up 74-60. Tennessee never got closer than eight again.

"I thought our fight mechanism tonight was really high, and I credit our players for that, because they were ready to go. There wasn't any retreat," Stallings said.

"Even if we weren't playing well, we weren't backing up from the game, and that's how you have to play in hard, tough, rivalry road games."

For the second-straight game, it didn't seem to be Vandy's day until the Commodores got things going midway through the second half. Vandy led 17-10 at the 12:54 mark, but struggled to shoot and fine offensive rhythm for the rest of the half.

After UT caught up, the teams traded leads for much of the rest of the half. But the Vols ended the half on a 9-3 run, highlighted by Pearl's reverse fast-break lay-up just before half, to take a 35-31 lead at the break.

The second half started as the Prince show. With the game knotted at 39, Prince drove from the right side of the floor down the lane, where he was fouled by Walker. Prince took exception to the contact by instantly connecting on a back-handed slap at a stunned Walker's face.

Prince's action could have easily been interpreted as a punch, which would have resulted in his ejection. After several minutes of huddling, a Doug Shows-led officiating crew called technical fouls on both Walker and Prince, though Walker never appeared to retaliate beyond briefly grabbling Prince's jersey in reaction to Prince's contact.

A confused Stallings later indicated that Walker was whistled for "language" during the incident, and declined further comment.

That seemed to light a fire under the Vols. UT retained possession, Prince hit a 3, then added a dunk on the next trip. UT later went up by six on a Skylar McBee 3-pointer, and held the lead the rest of the way until Vandy's big run.

"We knew we'd come out and make a stand, and that everything would be okay," Beal said.

The Vols also suffered some crushing blows even as Prince's play carried them early in the half. Tennessee starters Kenny Hall and Scotty Hopson picked up their fourth fouls before three minutes were gone in the second half. Vandy's advantage was somewhat negated as Walker and Taylor each picked up their fourth fouls in the minutes that followed.

Coming in, VU's main concern coming in was stopping Vol center Wayne Chism, who had been a Commodore killer at various points in his career. Chism was somewhat hobbled by a gimpy knee that he hurt in UT's loss at Georia on Saturday, but the Commodores weren't taking any chances, zoning UT for much of the night in an attempt to hold Chism down.

It worked, to a large extent. Chism collected a game-high 16 rebounds in 31 minutes, but just two were offensive boards. He scored just eight points on 2-of-9 shooting.

"I thought our guys were in tune to the scouring report and where they needed to be," Stallings said. "We've had some breakdowns, obviously, but we were on point relative to trying to bring some help to Chism. We didn't necessarily feel that we could guard him alone."

Stallings credited reserve center Festus Ezeli for effective defense against Chism as well, even though VU's sophomore also picked up four fouls.

Vanderbilt, which entered the game leading the league in 3-point percentage in conference games. It had another good night from long distance as it hit 8-of-14 3-point shots.

Beal's 4-of-6 behind the arc led the way. He also didn't commit a turnover on the evening.

Vanderbilt also became only the second team in the past eight games to hit better than 38 percent from the field, though Georgia (56.3) also accomplished that feat on Saturday.

The No. 21 Commodores now sit alone atop the SEC standings, and ride a 10-game winning streak as they head to top-ranked Kentucky on Saturday. The Wildcats fell at South Carolina for their first loss of the season on Tuesday.

Saturday's game will be televised by ESPN at 3 p.m. Central.

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